The news is emerging that the Mavs will sign their veteran free agent Delonte West to a deal on Wednesday, with one for draftee Bernard James to follow soon thereafter. That will bring the Mavs roster to 15 players, at least for now.
The contractual details are still under wraps. We can probably piece together what James will get, but the one for West carries a bit of intrigue and potential pitfalls, along with some choices. Here's a look at both.
As a second-round pick, James will almost certainly get a two-year minimum salary agreement. Since there's no cap exception granted for second round draft choices, nor salary guarantees mandated, teams almost always use the CBA's minimum salary exception to sign such players. That allows a deal for up to two years, with none of the salary required to be guaranteed.
Given that context, the negotiations typically center around the length of the deal (one year or two) and the amount of guaranteed money. The team will want the deal written for the full two years; as such, at the end they will hold Early Bird rights and restricted free agent control in the event the player develops into a keeper.
The higher the pick in the second round, the more likely that the player can get some or all of the deal guaranteed in the event he doesn't pan out. With James, picked with the second pick of the round, his agent is already celebrating a pending agreement that has the first season fully guaranteed.
Given the Mavs' desire for cap room in the summer of 2013, along with the league norms, look for the deal to be two years, with the first fully guaranteed and the second having no guarantee at all. That makes James an easy trade asset or a player that can be waived at no cost, if the 2013 need arises - while still preserving the Mavs' ability to keep him if that's the better choice as the summer of 2013 evolves.
There are more choices with West - and the options are trickier. The big question marks involve flexibility, cap room, and whether player and team envision West as a longer-term fixture in Dallas.
Given the Mavs' desire to maintain space to sign a premium free agent next summer, the Mavs' commitment will undoubtedly be for only one year. But that one year can be packaged in one of several different ways, with the differences potentially having significance.
The first is the size of the contract. The Mavs choices are their Room MLE of $2,575,000, or a minimum salary of $1,223,166 (if a one-year minimum with no options, the Mavs would pay only $854,389 and the league would pay the rest).
Everything else being equal, obviously West would prefer more money rather than less, and with the Mavs far under the tax line, the added $1.35M extra for the MLE would be relative peanuts. But that choice will carry other ramifications.
The primary consequence would pertain to what happens if the Mavs are able to make a major free agent signing next summer. One of the crucial issues then (as it was with the D-Will quest) will be the remaining talent base that the new star will have around him. Clearing out the roster to obtain the needed room also removes lots of talent.
So if we fast forward to summer of 2013, after another one year deal with West the Mavs would be in line to use Early Bird rights to sign him to a new contract and be able to offer him a deal up to the MLE using those rights. Those rights, however, have a cap cost which is based on the previous year's salary.
If West gets the $2.575M Room MLE this season, those Early Bird rights would eat up about $3.35M in summer 2013 cap space. In the process of clearing cap room for a star signee, they would almost certainly be renounced. Then to get any Bird rights again, he'd either have to wait for two-or-more years if he signed elsewhere, or sign with the Mavs for the minimum for a year and get them back in the summer of 2014 when he could then sign a bigger longer deal.
But if he takes the minimum this season, the Mavs will be able to retain those Early Bird rights in the summer of 2013 at a cap charge of only $884,293. Since that's little more than the charge for an empty roster space, they'd be retained rather than renounced, and it would make it easy to sign him last and ink him to a bigger longer deal (as much as the MLE) at that point. Even if he didn't want to stay in Dallas for some reason, the preservation of those Early Bird rights could facilitate a potentially bigger deal with another team via sign-and-trade.
The "bird in the hand" axiom would certainly favor West shooting for the extra money this season, but if there's a level of trust and comfort between he and the Mavs, it would be much better for both parties in the long run for him to play this season for the minimum.
The second is whether the contract has some mechanism within it to make it longer than a year. Without the Mavs being committed financially to added cap cost next summer, the deal could still have either a team option or an additional season that has little-to-no guaranteed money.
Since the Mavs want their cap room to be flexible in 2013, having another year tacked onto the deal wouldn't seem to matter at all ...but in fact, it might matter a lot. Where it would come into play would be in the event that the Mavs needed West as part of a blockbuster trade during the season. If he signs for only one year, without the Mavs having the ability to unilaterally add another somehow, he effectively ends up with a "no trade" provision in his contract.
Dallas made the mistake of creating just such a situation with Devean George several years ago, and it almost wrecked their trade for Jason Kidd when George brought everything to a screeching halt. Since then, the Mavs have done deals giving George (again!) and others the same sort of "no trade" ability to block trades.
On this front, advance planning to prevent the same blunder would seem to be in order. Adding a team option to exercise another year in the event of a desire for a trade, or adding a non-guaranteed second season, can prevent that problem from arising without impairing the quest for 2013 cap room.
Taken altogether, what do we think West should get? It it was up to us, we'd offer him a choice.
If he does the minimum salary plan where he's taking a bit less to work within the team's salary issues and commit to a future in Dallas, we'd just sign him to a simple one-year minimum salary deal that has the "no trade" obstacle, and be done. In that context he's here for the long run, and there's no consideration to trade him; and his minimum salary would be too small to make much difference for a trade anyhow.
But if he wants the Room MLE, that $2.575M contract should be structured to its greatest advantage. It should include a second year that's totally non-guaranteed until mid-to-late July 2013, and also provide him a bonus in the event he's traded. Doing it that way would give the Mavs a great trade chip without the risk of clogging their cap ...and would also provide West some potential for the longer deal he prefers. Ultimately with that structure, he could be traded, kept, or waived (including waived-and-re-signed) in 2013, with equal ease for the Mavs, and he still gets at least the $2.575M for one year, no matter what.